Sunday, March 29, 2020

Meet Tofu!

On Thursday we welcomed a new family member. Meet Tofu:


Tofu is an American bulldog × Labrador retriever mix. The shelter we adopted him from says he's 4 years old, but we think he may actually be younger.

Tofu is the name the shelter had given him, and it looks that'll be his permanent name (although I've started calling him Tofino). He's a big block of extra firm tofu, that's for sure.

The first thing we noticed when we met him at the shelter was how affectionate he is. That's pretty remarkable, considering the life he must have had (we actually know nothing about his past history). He likes to know where everybody is and checks in periodically. We're giving him all the reassurance he needs in this transition phase.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Life in the time of the coronavirus

I was supposed to be in Phoenix, Arizona last week for the Desert Botanical Garden's big plant sale—think thousands upon thousands of plants to choose from! The day before my flight, however, I decided not to go because the reported number of coronavirus cases was growing exponentially and the risk of getting infected at the airport, on the plane, in the hotel, or elsewhere in public seemed too great. In hindsight, that proved to be the right decision because the Desert Botanical Garden ended up canceling the plant sale and California governor Gavin Newsom ordered all residents to shelter in place.

Before we were able to hunker down in Davis, my wife and I made a quick down-and-back trip to Southern California to pick up daughter #2 from college. All her spring quarter classes were moved online, and students were encouraged to leave the dorms.

The freeways were eerily empty. Mostly trucks—actually, a lot of trucks!


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Agave Garden at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

I was going to be in Phoenix, Arizona this week but I had to cancel my plans because of COVID-19. So instead of looking at desert plants in person, I'm catching you up on some of the things I saw on my previous trip in late December 2019.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) in Tucson is a personal favorite. I always make time for a visit, even if it's just for a few hours. A few weeks ago, I wrote about potted specimen plants and the Cactus Garden at the ADSM. Today I want to show you the Agave Garden. It was restored from the ground up a few years ago, with a brand-new artificial rock island in the center that allows even small species to shine.

Agave parrasana in blue pot, Agave nickelsiae on the right, with Agave tequilana in the very back

Monday, March 16, 2020

What's in bloom and other garden sightings, mid-March 2020

I always seem to miss Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, started by Carol “Keeper of the World's Largest Collection of Hoes” Michel of May Dreams Gardens, but this month I'm reasonably close.

🎕 🎕 🎕 🎕 🎕

The aloes are continuing their winter flower fest. Many of them are past their peak, but they're still pretty even now. A few Australian natives are contributing to this month's Bloom Day as well. We finally had some rain, so who knows what might develop in the weeks ahead!

Flowers or not, this is one my favorite vignettes in the garden

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Colorful plastic animals at the Desert Botanical Garden

Question: What did you see at the Desert Botanical Garden?
Answer: Colorful plastic animals.
Question: Colorful plastic animals?
Answer: Colorful plastic animals.

Yes, indeed. Expect to see lots of colorful plastic animals if you visit the Desert Botanical Gardens (DBG) in Phoenix, AZ between now and May 10, 2020. Depending on how you feel about such things—whether you like art in gardens, how you define art, and what your general preferences are—you may do a happy dance, you may shake your head in disbelief or resignation, or you may actively cuss in disgust.

As a public service, here are lots of photos of lots of colorful plastic animals from my visit to the DBG in late December.

Arguably, the DBG's entrance ramada—usually a dull spot in a garden that's anything but dull— has never looked this lively

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Beginning of the end: Agave 'Mad Cow' starting to bloom

In the olden days, agaves were called “century plants” because people thought it would take a hundred years for them to flower. That's not quite the case, seeing how most agave species flower within 5 to 20 years.

Yet the flowering of an agave is still a bit of an event—one that's as bitter as it's sweet. Agaves have a flair for drama and produce impressive flower stalks. They might be 4 feet tall in a dwarf species like Agave × arizonica, or 25 feet in a giant like Agave salmiana. As a matter of fact, agaves put everything they've got into this undertaking, to the point where's simply nothing left when all is said and done. That's why most agave species die after they've finished flowering.

Agave 'Mad Cow', a hybrid between Agave bovicornuta (the cow's horn agave) and Agave colorata

I may look dorkily cheerful in this photo—it truly is exciting to see such a big flower stalk emerge—but I feel wistful at the same time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

More agave/aloe musical chairs in our garden

This post continues where Propping up a large leaning Aloe globuligemma × marlothii left off. In fact, in the two photos below, you can see the newly erect aloe in the upper left:

Agave pumila in the center

As I mentioned in my Aloe globuligemma × marlothii post, the next plant I was going to tackle was the Agave pumila nearby, seen in the center and bottom of the two photos above. This agave sustained quite a bit of damage from rot in the extra wet winter of 2016/2017 but pulled through. While I respect its resilience, its time had come—I just wasn't “feeling” it anymore the way I once had. With in-ground real estate at a premium, I've become quite brutal at rotating out plants no longer in favor.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Aloes good enough to eat!

Aloes have a long history of medicinal use, not just where they're native but also elsewhere. Sunburn or minor skin irritation? Aloe gel is the go-to choice for many.

But I didn't know that aloes are also finding their way into foodstuffs. My wife recently surprised me with this:


Intriguing for sure, although one thing made me laugh: “Aloe Vera flavored.” Tasting of what, exactly, other than green and possibly grassy?

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Propping up a large leaning Aloe globuligemma × marlothii

It turns out that people aren't the only ones starting to lean at they get older. Some aloes are, too. At least this one is, and it's not even that old. It's been in the ground for just a little over four years; check out how small it was when I planted it in February 2016!

According to Arid Lands Greenhouses in Tucson, Arizona where I bought it in a 4-inch pot, Aloe globuligemma × marlothii is a “natural hybrid between two widely distributed Aloes in eastern South Africa. The seeds were collected near Lebowakgomo, South Africa.” Aloe globuligemma, the purported seed parent, is not a very large plant, but Aloe marlothii, the daddy, certainly is. And this baby here is the spitting image of its daddy, although there's still a good chance that momma's genes will express themselves in the flowers.

As baby was putting on size and weight, gravity started to pull it forward, down the slight incline it's planted on. While I don't mind the way it looks, I want it to grow upright so its stem will be straight.

Aloe globuligemma × marlothii

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Echinocereus cactus bowl looking better than new after renovation

Few things make you realize how fast time goes by than the growth of plants. Not that we're always aware of it. Growth is gradual, and often we don't notice how much bigger a plant has gotten until the scales fall off our eyes and we go, whoa, how come I didn't notice that before?

Take a look at the 22-inch terracotta bowl below. I'm happy with everything in it except for one thing. And that one thing has been bothering me a great deal since the OCD region of my brain has latched on to it: the agave clump you see on the right. It's Agave toumeyana var. bella, a dwarf variety found in a few mountainous locations in south-central Arizona. 

With its white markings and curling leaf threads, it's a nice-looking plant. However, as you can see, it's taken over a good chunk of real estate in the bowl already and is sending out pups on ever longer rhizomes. Time to intervene.